Gather around, ladies and gentlemen. It's story-time with Uncle Rommel!
In seriousness, there's much to glean from "The Rommel Papers". If you're unfamiliar please feel free to check out my review of it here first.
Approaching these memoirs from just a historical or military angle is to miss the insights on life and human nature. What I will be grappling with here is a specific contrast Rommel makes between professors of economics and businessmen, found on page 288.
"There often occurred to me the difference between the Professor of Economics and the businessman, as judged by their financial success. The businessman may not perhaps be on the same intellectual plane as the professor, but he bases his ideas on real facts and puts the whole power of his will behind their realization. The professor, on the other hand, often has a false conception of reality and although perhaps having more ideas, is neither able nor anxious to carry them out; the fact that he has them is satisfaction enough. And so the businessman has the greater financial success."
Before we go on, it's necessary to understand why Rommel is even talking about this. So to put it into relevant context, he continues.
"The same difference can often be found between the academic and fighting soldier. One of the most important factors - not only military matters, but in life as a whole - is the power of execution, the ability to direct one's whole energies towards the fulfillment of a particular task. The officer of purely intellectual attainments is usually only fitted for work as an assistant on the staff; he can criticize and provide material for discussion. But a conclusion intellectually arrived at needs the executive power of the commander to follow it up and force it to realization."
I'll begin by saying I disagree with his conclusion that "the businessman has the greater financial success" as if it were guaranteed. Had he said "can have" I'd take no issue with it. That's just the nature of a high risk / high reward strategy, compared to a profession like teaching that tends to pay a set salary.
Rommel is correct, however, that a key factor at play here is executive ability. As the cliche goes, we need a man who can get things done.
"The professor... often has a false conception of reality..." His ideas are suited for a vacuum, a scientific lab, where there's complete control over the environment and any variables can be isolated, changed, or removed on a whim. That's what people mean when they say Marxism works on paper but not in practice. In a setting where all the stars and planets align, literally anything could work. But the real world doesn't work like that, and so he is not 'able' to reconcile with cold reality. And Rommel's use of 'anxious' is similar to desire. It's a lot of effort to bring dreams to fruition.
That leads us to Rommel's point: knowledge is not power without execution.
This is an important distinction to make. Dramatic irony - when the audience knows something a character does not - isn't power. Such knowledge does not allow the audience to change the outcome of the play. Blackmail on the other hand is power indeed.
Knowledge by itself is nothing more than potential energy. Similarly, an executioner is useless without something or somebody to execute. He is the catalyst that transforms the potential into kinetic. Rommel hinted at this relationship.
To reiterate, "an officer of purely intellectual attainments is usually only fitted for work as an assistant on the staff... a conclusion intellectually arrived at needs the executive power of the commander to follow it up and force it to realization." There you have the process coming full circle. The professor provides various economic theories as lenses to see through, laws which serve as foundations to build on, and tools to work with. Then the businessman acquires that knowledge and puts it to use.
Reading books isn't going to get you a house in the Hollywood hills with a new Lamborghini in the garage. What really matters is what you do with what you've learned. Reflect on the reading. Apply one lesson to your life. Challenge yourself to be a better person every day. The price Rommel payed for his wisdom was committing suicide to protect his family. The price I paid for that wisdom was nothing more than a little time and money well-spent.
A lifetime of experience packaged into a mere couple weeks for our benefit. That's the potential of exponential growth.
You need to be logged in to comment